Tinnitus comes from the Latin word meaning “ringing” and is defined as the perception of sound within the ear in the absence of any corresponding sound outside the ear. Sufferers usually describe it as a ringing noise, but in some cases, it takes the form of a high-pitched whining, electric buzzing, hissing, humming, tinging or whistling sound, or as ticking, clicking, roaring, ‘crickets’ or ‘frogs’. Tinnitus can be intermittent or it can be continuous, in which case it can be the cause of great distress. In some individuals the intensity can be changed by shoulder, head, tongue, jaw, or eye movements.
Tinnitus is not actually a disease, but a condition resulting from a number of underlying causes such as neurological damage, ear infections, foreign objects in the ear, nasal allergies, wax build-up and exposure to loud sounds. In the ear earphones (or ear buds), where the sound is channeled directly into the ear canal without being deflected or absorbed elsewhere, are a common cause of tinnitus if the volume is set above a safe level. However, the most common cause of tinnitus is noise-induced hearing loss.
The ‘amount’ of tinnitus is difficult to measure as it is very subjective and is usually rated on a simple scale from ‘slight’ to ‘severe’ depending on the difficulties the sufferer encounters, such as difficulty sleeping etc.
Tinnitus is more common than many people think, with about 20% of people between 55 and 65 years old reporting symptoms.
Studies have indicated that without any ‘treatment’ tinnitus will actually diminish in the majority of cases as your brain ‘loses interest’ – this is called ‘habituation’ but it could take several months or even years. Assistive devices like tinnitus maskers and hearing aids may help certain people but results do vary. The British Tinnitus Association offers excellent advice and information on what can be a distressing condition for the sufferer.